Top Twenty Greatest Synths
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Episode One |  Episode Two |  Episode Three |  Episode four | 
Episode Five |  Episode Six   |  Episode Seven |  Episode Eight
<Top 20 Greatest Synths - Episode 8

As poodle rockers Europe once said, "it's the Final Countdown" and here we are at the number one position on the Top 20 Greatest Synths of all time.
It's been quite a journey spread over 14 weeks, 8 episodes and all types of synths, romplers, racks and keyboards from the ARP Solina to the Mini Moog.

First of all a big thanks to the thousands and thousands of viewers that have stuck with the show from the start, and to the others that we've picked up along the way. The response has been awesome even down to the raging debates about chart positions and inclusions or omissions that the show (inevitably) kicked off.

Look out for an updated edition of the show's playlist featuring more indepth demos and added extras. Also there'll be some one-off news and video items coming up from the Top 20 Synths in the next few months.

In the mean time - to view the entire series go Here

GForce Software MINIMONSTA Giveaway! those generous folks have donated a full copy of their highly regarded Minimonsta Melohman plug-in to One lucky recipient. Draw result to be announced shortly - stay tuned!

And what of the new Top Twenty Weirdest Instruments series?
"This series is less chart-based than the Top 20 Synths. It will have a different feel to it with a lot of emphasis on the instruments," said Power. "We've already lined up some interviews that I'm really excited about. I can't wait to get started. It's been great fun putting these series together for Sonic."

You can vote for your top 3 weirdest instruments here.
In the meantime let's get on with the show!

<1. Mini Moog
Without a doubt the Mini Moog displays all the qualities of greatness that you could hope for in a single instrument. When it went on the market in 1970 it changed the face of modern electronic instrumentation forever. It's features and layout were innovative, groundbreaking and meticulously designed. By the time the prototypes had reached Model D, many of its idiosyncrasies had been ironed out and musicians and producers alike were able to enjoy it���s unparalleled sound.
Its arsenal of features include a 4-pole (24 dB/oct) low-pass with the typical cutoff, resonance, ADSR envelope and keyboard tracking controls. The filters were the envy of all other synth manufacturers and rivals ARP were slapped with a lawsuit for attempting a straight copy in the ARP Odyssey.
The modulation possibilities range from the sublime to the extreme and with 3 oscillators and a choice of waveforms all the necessary tools are present to create a wide range of synthesised sound. Add to this external sound processing, A440 reference tone, a sleek wooden casing and lots of sexy knobs and it becomes clear why the Mini Moog comes out top of the pile.
This episode features an exclusive Sonic State interview with Bob Moog filmed during Moog's 50th Anniversary at WNAMM 2004 and footage from the much acclaimed Moog documentary by Hans Fjellestad. We hope that this episode is a fitting tribute to the man who will always be considered as the father of modern synthesis.

People who voted for the Mini Moog include:
kandokoro, loop, oliver sekunda, s.menninger, nikoszp, roderick macquarrie, andy furguson, shane king, tylern wilcox, mike jerugim, stefan schoenhof, dss?dood, sebastian lunoe, hz, leftbrain, rainsoff, neomad, d_loc66, bobhanna, alan longhire, nadabrahma, quaz1, bucktunes, abillias, chingalasos, jswedlund, sam kenney, tschedin, qwave, dieter198, uwe_klaeschen, p.e.todd, willhowl, museslave, thm, john reading, keyaction372, musicmanny, jsepeta, sdconvoy, klingklang and many, many more!

Thanks to Marc Doty for his Mini Moog demo filmed for Sonic in 2006.

So that's it! Remember, you can visit any time to watch any of the episodes in the playlist and there's also talk of one day releasing the entire programme on DVD. Let us know your thoughts on that.
Meantime, a big thanks for watching the series and a huge thanks to everyone involved who gave up their time to take part.

This has been the Top 20 Greatest Synths of all time... Ever!

<2. ARP Odyssey
At a time when modular synths were elitist, unobtainable and hideously expensive, the Odyssey offered the perfect alternative. This lightweight portable 37 note duophonic keyboard could be used for studio recording or in live situations. Although racked with tuning problems, many bands and artists took this rival to the Mini Moog out on the road in the early 70's, where it forged a reputation that lives on to this day.

The Odyssey was produced in 3 models. An off-white version, a black and gold version and the most common, a black version with orange livery. Later versions had good CV/gate interface and the mark 2's were fitted with XLR outputs.

The model 4035 4-pole VCF filter was a direct steal from the Moog filter and a subsequent law suit from Moog forced ARP to redesign their own 4-pole low pass filters, the model 4075. These were included in many of the other ARP instruments such as the Quadra, Avatar, Axxe, Pro DGX and Omni 1 & 2.

The Odyssey has appeared on a number of recordings by an array of different bands and artists. Tangerine Dream, Yello Magic Orchestra, Klaus Schulze, Devo, the Chemical Brothers, Chick Corea, ELO, Ian Dury & the Blockheads and the BBC���s Radiophonic Workshop all used the Odyssey.

As part of GForce Software, Dave Spiers helped design and release The Oddity, a soft Odyssey with patch memory, MIDI/tempo sync and velocity sensitivity. In this episode, Dave gives his Odyssey II a full workout and explains why this 'punk rock' synth deserves a position as runner up to the greatest synth ever.

People who included the Odyssey in their Top 3 votes include:
jhenneocad, cmcmasters, steve-state-of-the-art, DBW314, j.toman, usefulnoise, jswedlund, PJHK, alan_longhire, kleine, wingo, moretti, lou fashioni, s.aldridge47, arpodyssey, robert80, akai, yammy252, jsaulenson, mario534, johansonleb, jon_waker, turner, AES467, kingsmanjt, andyshane, paulberrisford, krinky_jones, lillo, avatarman, ferguson243, and many, many more.

<3. Sequential Circuits Prophet 5
Perhaps considered the quintessential synth of the 1980���s, the Prophet 5 was the flagship of Dave Smith���s Sequential Circuits range. It had 5 voice polyphony with 2 oscillators per voice, patch memory storage and 40 (count ���em) glorious presets. Apart from introducing micro processing, polyphony and patch memory to synth design, Dave Smith was also the driving force behind MIDI (in fact he coined the phrase). Not a bad CV, eh? Dave continues to innovate with his range of Dave Smith Instruments that have been highlighted in many Sonic State features and videos over the past few years. In this exclusive interview Dave talks about Sequential Circuits and what it was like to be a synth designer in the 70���s and 80���s. We also feature footage of Francis Monkman from 70's proggy outfit Curved Air giving a Prophet 5 lecteur from what appears to be a very large pre-Eurohike tent. Users include Peter Gabriel, Jean Michel Jarre, The Prodigy, Thomas Dolby, Depeche Mode, Genesis and many more.

<4. Yamaha DX7
It's the early 80's. Michael Jackson's Thriller and poodle rockers like Def Leppard and Motley Crue dominated the charts. The Eurythmics release Sweet Dreams, New Order release Blue Monday and Yamaha release their DX range of FM synthesisers. This was a very different time, folks, and the flagship DX7 becomes one of the most popular digital synths ever due to it���s crystal clear sounds and emulations of acoustic, string, wind and percussion instruments. But it outraged and alienated many with it���s indecipherable interface and split the synth world asunder with a raging debate that is as fierce today as it ever was. In this episode we hear from the enigmatic Chris Stone and Gary Davies, the technicians who helped develop this operating system, and from many of its users who don���t hold back with their opinions on this contentious subject. A big thanks to Jose Bara who helped provide the exclusive DX demos from his studio in Spain. So many bands and artists used the DX7 and the DX range. Here are just a few: Orbital, Talking Heads, Scritti Pollitti, Vangelis, Supertramp, Les Rhythms Digitale, Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk and of course Brian Eno.

<5. Korg M1
An obvious favourite of the professor���s (!!), the M1 defined the term ���workstation��� to a host of 80���s musicians and became one of the best selling synths of all time. With demos by William Horne and an exclusive interview with Keith Emerson���s engineer (Gmedia Music���s Chris Mcleod) we outline the importance of A1 synthesis, and the iconoclastic effect of the M1 on a generation of composers and music producers. M1 users included Mike Oldfield, Rod Argent, Gary Numan, Banco De Gaia, The Orb and Depeche Mode.

<6. Roland D50
The D50 competed with the DX7 and M1 with its PCM samples and Linear Arithmetic Synthesis to herald in a new era of digital sound technology in the latter half of the 1980's.
It was the first keyboard with on-board digital reverb, and added chorus gave a unique width and depth to the D50 sounds making it as popular and desirable in the 80���s as a ���Relax��� t-shirt and a George Michael mullet.
Dave Robinson (formerly of Future Music UK and current editor of ProSoundNews Europe) talks us around his own D50 with the kind of love that a man usually reserves for a first pet or favourite shirt. Bless him.

<7. Korg MS20
This dinky little 2 oscillatered monophonic lead and bass synth was mid range to Korg's MS10 and MS50. Its hard-wired patchable design was reminiscent of the ARP 2600 system (see episode 4) and although in a different league, the MS20 offered flexibility, portability and affordability for a whole new generation of synth-heads in the late 70's. Its classic looks and knob heavy front panel gave it instant cult status and it enjoys frequent renaissance periods with every new generation of electronic musicians. Ade Utley (Portishead) talks us through the front panel with added comments from Goldfrapp's Will Gregory.

<8. Roland JV-1080
One of Roland's most popular synths crashes in at number 8 on the countdown. You could find this 2U rack mounted unit in just about every jobbing composers studio in the mid 90's ready to add its lush pads and washes to any number of library or film score compositions. This ominous black box housed a 64 voice 16 part multi timbral workhorse with 640 patches, 128 performances and an expansion card slot for extra Techno, Orchestral and World music sounds. Sonic State's own Nick Batt reminisces about using this beast on his remixes as part of the dance duo, DNA. (You'll remember their hit Tom's Diner, but did you know they also remixed for Kylie and a whole load of other cool folk? Probably using a JV-1080���Oh yes!) The Chartgrazer's on this episode are the Korg Prophecy and Waldorf Q.

People who voted for at least one of the synths in episode 5 include:

kruz.home, sineworm, giorgioarmani99, blaz.maselj, gontakak07, randall.hill, bart.skrbec, vocoded1, jtams, storro437, magnbir, Mstimming, maltemark, ronen_sabo, szetsch, jesse.juup, hhorley06, mirodeler, pcodigital, danielrowe, locomurdok2000, hradec007, mrmorg, tandell.forest, matti.kettu, john.lanius, hexfxtriks, morgan, gfl030, thehampshires, acidville, smartface05, kerzwhile and many, many more.

< 9. Access Virus
German synth lords Access introduced the uber cool desktop 'A' model in 1997 with the Virus 'B' mopping up all the success in 1999. The ���B' was a 24-voice, 3-oscillator upgrade with 82 realtime FX and a 32-band vocoder.
OS 4.0 was introduced to the range in 2000 (free to download) and upgraded the Virus into one of the best analogue modelling synths ever produced. The Virus KB was a full sized keyboard version with handsome wood panelling and the Virus Rack was released in 2001.
The gorgeous Virus Indigo is a sleek 37-note 'virtual analogue roadster' that looks as cool as it sounds and sounds as cool as it looks.
The Virus family are truly magnificent upgradeable synths and have proved themselves to be one of the best affordable hardware range to be produced in the last decade.

<10. ARP 2600
OK, slight mistake here. Goldfrapp's Mr. Gregory cited the ARP 2600 as being the system used on the movie Close Encounters whereas that was more likely to have been its predecessor the 2500. But, hey it's a great story anyhow so just enjoy it and let's remember that the 2600 has an even greater film legacy as it was used by Skywalker Sound to make the bleeps and widdles for the R2D2 voice in Star Wars. Hey-hey, movie buffs!
This semi-modular, monophonic patch-cabled beast was produced in direct competition with the Moog modulars of the early 70s and became so popular that its fearsome reputation survives to this day, a quarter of a century after the demise of the ARP foundation.
Jim Heintz from Wayoutware tells us about it's unique features, sound quality and layout.
Oh and by the way, if you're thinking of getting a soft one, as well as Jim's TimewArp 2600, there is also the Arturia ARP 2600V.

<11. Oberheim OB8
The big and brassy OB8 was the last in the series of synths that included the OB-1, OB-Xa and the OB-X. Although MIDI-less, the digital buss system offered unprecedented connectivity for the time, allowing it to talk to the DSX sequencer, the DMX drums and other OB synths.
It had 120 patches of memory, an 8 note arpeggiator and syncable VCOs. Apart from the Prince and Van Halen examples mentioned by Dave, the Oberheims were regularly used by acts like the Police, Paul McCartney, Thompson Twins, Simple Minds and KLF.

People who voted for at least one of the synths on this episode include: Modular77, Z128, pbunky1970, bradhivoltage, djintact, r_quirk, squirtifier, kandokoro, da_dmaster, andyr, Roderick Macquarrie, , Protontube, Timothy Ringeling, Peter Nmahr, roxette_fan, 12.bar.blues, synthesiseme, djkaos, EA_shop, rugerseeds, dss_dood, soundjotter, Palle, mass.longo, HZ, leftbrain, amine.berrada.gouzi and many, many more.

<12. Roland Juno 60
The second of Roland's affordable high quality synth range of the early 80's was the Juno 60. It's predessessor, the Juno 6 had no memory and was easily out classed by it's closest competition, the Korg Polysix. This later release featured 56 memory patches, but still no MIDI. The 24 dB/octave low pass filter and a three-position non-resonant highpass filter gave the Juno 60 distinctive and lush sounding bass and pad sounds that even outdid it's successor, the be-MIDI'ed and digital 106.

<13. The Mellotron
The Mellotron had to be included on the chart if only for it's remarkable contribution to the story of keyboard instruments. The tape replay system first appeared in the States on the Chamberlin and was later ���adopted' (verb meaning copied or borrowed: ie. Stolen���Well, kind of) by three brothers, Leslie, Frank and Norman Bradley of Streetly Electronics in Birmingham UK for the Mellotron. The Bradley brothers adapted and improved the tape replay design which became popular with British Invasion bands like The Beatles, The Kinks, The Stones and the Moody Blues. Infact Mike Pinder of the Moody Blues started out testing Mellotrons at Streetley Electronics long before the keyboard was used to create the eerie, seductive string wash on the seminal 60's track Nights in White Satin.
Despite its success, the Mellotron was notoriously unreliable and the banks of tapes would twist, stretch and snap in live situations. The keyboard found its spiritual home nailed down in the recording studio on records like Strawberry Fields Forever, 2000 Light Years From Home, Stairway to Heaven and Space Oddity.
It's unique wonky sound enjoys periodic renaissance more recently with bands like Oasis, The Cardigans, Dinosaur Jnr, Gomez, NIN and Radiohead. A softie version called the Mtron means that musicians can now enjoy hours of fun without wading through a sea of tagliatelli

<14. Yamaha CS-80
In this segment we see Vangelis demonstrating the versitility of the Yamaha CS80.
This 8 voice polyphonic beast had 22 presets (you'll recognise them all), independent hi and lo pass filters and a ribbon controller for extra expression. This huge analogue beast was only really affordable to the rock elite and although tremendously innovative for the mid 70's, it was quickly superceded by the Prophet V as the synth-to-the-stars. Listen out for it's unique sound on Bladerunner and David Lynch's Dune as well as countless Stevie Wonder and Jean Michelle Jarre records. Oh, and why is Vangelis dressed like he's just been to a wedding?

The Chartgazers in this episode are the Roland SH1000 and the Alesis Andromeda A6.

<15. Roland Jupiter 8
The second and by no means the last Roland on the countdown is the Jupiter 8. Alot of folks may have given the JP8 a higher chart position, which illustrates just how fierce the competition for places on the Top 20 Greatest Synths has been.
Anyways, The JP8 arpeggiator became the sound that was synonymous with the early 80's, pebble-dashing HI NRG dance tracks, library compositions and hits by Thomas Dolby, Simple Minds, OMD, Jan Hammer and of course Duran Duran.
Chart topping Synth prefect Howard Jones sings the praises of everybodies favourite non-MIDIed, 8 voice, polyphonic, easy-to-programme, be-slidered, dream synth of the early 1980's.

<16. E-MU Proteus 1
I know. Rack mounted modules just ain't that sexy. And as for the Proteus? Surely it's just a butt-ugly passion killer? Well, if you were trying to get some pop chart action in the early 90's, this 32 voice, 16 part multitimbral 1U rack mount gave you beer goggles and a hard on every time you went to use one of it's 16 bit ROM samples.
Pianos, strings, guitars, horns, organs, drums all at your fingertips as well as 6 individual polyphonic outputs... Well hell-o, Proteus!

<17. Clavia Nord Lead
The Nord Lead is redder than most synths. Infact the redness of the entire Nord range cannot be understated. Nord synths are extremely, infact terminally RED. But let this redness not detract in the slightest from their importance and place in the history of modern synthesis. This polyphonic, multitimbral range with its Virtual Sound Modelling, analogue simulation and knob-rich control panel has spawned a deluge of imitators since it's mid 90's launch when it started its lineage that lives on today through the Nord Stage 88 and 79 and Clavia's virtual software. Synth collector and journalist Steve Huthwaite shows off his impressive synth collection and talks about all things Clavia. Oh, and we included some nice shots of Sweden to add some atmosphere to the piece!

<18. VCS3 (The Putney)>
It's Unique. It's Singular. It's Iconic. It's at number 18. This cute little monosynth housed in its distinctive wooden casing has a huge cult following and the significance of the Electronic Music Studios range in synthesizer history is undeniable.. Goldfrapp's Will Gregory and Portishead's Ade Utley enthuse wildly over this strange box of tricks that's as British as John Cleese eating Fish'n'chips with HP Sauce. By the way, yes, we know that there are also photos of Synthi A's and AKS's in this piece���please don't email us. (But thanks for caring!)

<19. Roland SH101>
The first of many Roland's on the chart is the SH101 in at 19. The grooviest little Japanese monosynth made the most of it's single oscillator, but it's step sequencing just fell short of the mid 80's MIDI revolution. It was adopted by the ACID fraternity, guest appearing on a raft of early Techno & Rave outings as a soundalike TB303.

<20.The Solina
Kicking off the Top 20 at number 20 it's the ARP Solina. Produced by Dutch Organ manufacteurer Eminent as a bolt on for their organ range and later snapped up and improved by ARP, the Solina is as much a part of the 1970's as Skylab, tank tops, Richard Nixon and Starski & Hutch. Its sounds include horn and trumpet but the string was the thing with its pads and washes appearing on countless anthems during the golden era of disco, jazz-funk and beyond. Hear the full story from The Cure's Roger O'Donnell and Future Music's Jack Waterson.